McBride's Variety Department Store has closed its doors to the public in its three inner-city locations, adding substantially to the already existing scarcity of budget stores serving low-income shoppers in Washington.
McBridge's also has closed its two Kopy Kat women's apparel shops at 429 Eighth St. SE and in Eastover, Md. The three department stores are at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE, 700 H St. NE and 2834 Alabama Ave. SE.
Richard Blechman, one of the department store chain's owners, confiremed the five closings yesterday but said they are "temporary. We're in the process of working out the details of it. We're planning to re-open."
Blechman declined to provide any further details, saying he would know more next week and would release information at that time. He said he was concerned about his customers and employes, and requested that an article not appear until next week.
A woman who answered the phone at the H Street store yesterday said, "We're not closing . . . We're trying to get this thing back together again." A security guard, Robert DeMilt, answered the phone at the Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road store and said the store was closed. phones at the other stores had been disconnected.
A specialty store called The General Store that sells jeans and other clothing opened Monday in the old McBride's location on Alabama Avenue SE. "We are not a budget store," said Jeannie papageorge, an assistant buyer there. ". . . We're appealing to every class (of shopper)."
The General Store is leasing the site, according to its executive director, who said his name is Mr. Gabby.
McBride's and other inner-city budget stores have been having difficulties at a time when chain stores that appeal to upper-middle income shoppers - Woodward & Lothrop, Neiman-Marcus and Bloomingdale's opening new branches here, according among others - are doing well and to retailing sources.
"The suburbs have been doing very well, but that segment of the retail economy that serves essentially the black working class are not doing well," said Mortimer C. Lebowitz, owner of another downtown budget chain called Morton's Department Stores. "The margins are close, the customers are living on a very thin economy and, in the city, nobody's really gotten together to help them (the retailers).
"But this is true in all central cities. In D.C., the cost of operation is higher (than in the suburbs). The trend is out of the city and into the suburbs."
"There's just not a heck of a lot left in the city," said one observer of the budget store scene who asked not to be identified.
This observer and Lebowitz were hard pressed to think of any inner-city budget variety stores other than Lebowitz's own four-store chain, the two downtown Lerner Shops that sell inexpernsive women's apparel and other items, and a G.C. Murphy Variety Store on G. Street.
Neisner's Variety Store at 1114 G St. NW is having a going-out-of-business sale. The Neisner Brothers chain, with stores in many places in the northeastern United States, filed for bankruptcy last December.
Budget variety stores are only a small part of the retailing picture in Washington, but people who live near or in the inner city have nothing else to depend on unless they travel to the suburbs to shop in the many discount stores that flourish there.
Washington's major drug chains are all considered discount stores, according to observers of the retail scene - but again, such drugstores supply only a portion of the inner-city shopper's needs.
Retailers make a distinction between budget or what they call "low-end" stores such as McBride's, whose relatively low prices derive from the inexpensive quality of the good themselves, and discount store chains such as K-Mart whose enormous volume allows them to sell goods of relatively high quality at discounts.
The fierce competition provided by the flowrishing discount stores in the greater Washington area was partly responsible for Giant Food Inc.'s recent decision to close its four suburban department stores.
McBride's itself came under attack in late 1972 by an Americans for Democratic Action committee that said the store chain "exploits the city's poorest people by charging scandalously high prices" for a number of test items. The chain's owners vigorously denied the allegation.
McBride's opened its original H Street NE store in 1959 and added the 50,000-square-foot store at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road in 1963. When its third store opened in Southeast in 1970 there was a festive ribon-cutting ceremony attended by at least one City Council member.